Saturday, June 25, 2011

Homemade toffee sauce

We have a meeting of Pudding Club on Tuesday with 2 extras. In a change to the norm, we're providing the dessert and I'm hoping to produce a Baked Alaska - Rachel Allen's recipe suggests that this might need to be practised a couple of times, but I'm not wasting a litre of ice-cream for each practise/horrible ice-cream mess in the oven! Leigh's assured me that as long as the meringue covers all the ice-cream, I'll be fine.

Anyhoo, to accompany this, I thought I might make a toffee sauce. Our usual go-to recipe is one of Nigella's, but I came across this one recently and it looked worth a try. Partly because it looked dead easy and partly because it would mean I don't have to go and buy any cream. Hee hee. I tried it this evening and it was a good job I did.

Attempt 1 went in the microwave, timer set for 4 minutes. After 3 and a half minutes I realised that what I thought was steam gently rising from the remains of the roast chicken we'd had for dinner and which was standing by the microwave, was in fact acrid smoke billowing from the microwave resulting from boiling, burning sauce. I think our microwave must be more powerful than Wartime Housewife's but there's no indication in the recipe. Lingering smell from burnt sauce.

I was ready to give up but Leigh persuaded me to have another go and it went better this time. I checked the sauce every 30 seconds and after about 2 and a half minutes it seemed done. Tasted okay and the boys certainly liked it! On reflection though I probably should use unsalted butter next time and it could have done with maybe a few more seconds. It may have been easier to just do it in a saucepan after all. Going to go with Nigella for the dinner. Safer. And nicer!

Friday, June 24, 2011

The internet isn't always cheaper

I've made a list of 'house' bits and pieces (mainly fripperies it has to be said, like replacing missing door handles and sorting out the hole in the pantry door!) which I'd like to get sorted over the summer. One of which was to get some canvas prints made of 2 or 3 photos from our garden to hang in a lovely big blank space in the kitchen. Did a bit of flapping on the internet and it appeared that for a 12" x 12" canvas, most internet places (including the supermarkets) were charging around £30. And then postage. So I was going to put it on the backburner, but there's a chap who advertised in our local Post Office that he would put photos onto canvas and the examples up in the PO looked all right.

Rang him - £18. Yes, £18. Ordered them. Delivered today and they look great. Now to hang them...fortunately Leigh has offered to do this!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

More crafting

Having a go at another hooded towel for one of Zachary's friends. This time it's a rabbit and I'm trying to keep it simple! Have attached a white hood to white towel, and this evening I made 2 ears (pink and white) and appliqued a pick nose to the hood. Just need to add a tail, some paws and perhaps some whiskers.

I think it looks okay so far - definitely easier than trying a tabard one again, although applique on towels, even with a sewing machine is a bit tough! I was also going to try to be really thorough and overcast the edges of all the towel sections to try and prevent too much fraying but had to give up on that. Overcasting round curves was very tricky and I gave up in the end.

Overcasting uses the same stitch as applique (a satin stitch) so I thought I'd be okay, but I have to use a different presser foot in the machine to make sure the stitching stays as close to the edge of the material as it should be, and that foot has a central couple of bars, which the stitches are stitched over. Normally when appliqueing round curves, you lift the presser foot as the material starts to curve and adjust the material to keep everything going neatly. With the stitches running over the central section on the overcasting foot, I found that I couldn't turn the material. I'm sure there must be a way to achieve this - perhaps just trying to use a 'normal' presser foot, but I just left it as the edges were going to be hidden inside the ears. Fingers crossed!!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chocolate Cake

I came across this post by Wartime Housewife and thought I just need an excuse to have a try. My Dad's birthday this week seemed ideal! So cake made this afternoon - I was very good and followed the recipe to the letter, right down to the rubbing in. It seems to have come out a bit overcooked at the edges but I'm hoping that when we sample it tomorrow, the middle will be okay.

I used the mock cream she suggests to fill it and then had a go at icing 'happy birthday' on the top. Hmmm, maybe a candidate for Cake Wrecks??? Anyway, good news is, I'm booked on to a half day's course in cupcake decorating in a couple of weeks so hopefully things should get better!

Also on the subject of my Dad's birthday - got the apron done at a local printers (their price plus the price of an apron from eBay was in total half what I would have paid ordering the whole thing on the internet) and it looks great.

Train nut

When Zachary was small, we bought him a wooden train set, and then thanks to generous relatives (most notably Uncle Jamie), the set has grown and we now have quite a few bits and pieces for it - trains, track and lots of buildings, people and animals. Zachary however has never really been the sort of boy who sits and plays with trains or cars for a long time. Don't get me wrong, he loves the train set and when we get it out will play with it, but only for a short while.

Leo is a different story and seems much more keen on pushing cars and trains around with accompanying noises! So we got the set out a couple of days ago, and with the help of both my boys, we built the longest track we could!! It stretched the entire length of our front room. Marvellous.

But we had no way for the train to be turned round at the end of the track, other than picking it up and turning it ourselves. That got me thinking it might be nice to get a turntable. For Leo to use with the track. Of course.

So yesterday, I headed out for a walk with Leo and we made it to the wooden toy shop round the corner, where conveniently I wanted to buy a birthday present for one of Zachary's friends. The toy shop stocks a lot of parts and accessories for wooden train sets... As we were there, my eye just happened to spot a 4-way turntable, not too expensive, and also a couple of splitter tracks in a packet. Hmmmm.

So, those bought, came home with Leo and built mega-track! It was brilliant, and Leo had a good time. Which is of course why I bought the pieces. Not for me to play with at all. Honest!

Friday, June 17, 2011

My Little Helper

I made a cake this afternoon and gave Leo some things to play with while I made it - a bowl, a spoon, about a tablespoon each of flour, sugar and ground almonds. Sadly I was too slow to get the money shot of him with the bowl actually on his head...

Gladly, I had not put any wet ingredients in for him to mix!!! But, cake made with no complaints from Leo and a quick Dyson all over soon sorted it out...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Creamy Vanilla Rice Pudding

Easy peasy yum yum yum! Chosen because we have a glut of milk after being away at the weekend and only drinking 1 and a bit of the 4 delivered on Friday, with 2 more delivered this morning! I did ask Leigh to make smoothies, but as the day began miserably and cold, rice pudding seemed a better idea. Day warmed up, rice pudding still made.

Shown here served with Leigh's strawberry conserve, which he describes as "strawberry conserve disaster (candied fruit plus syrup instead of jam) . But it's perfect for mixing with yoghurt, rice pudding, making strawberry milkshakes...nothing wrong there!

One note to make - don't expect the liquid to go thick like Ambrosia's rice pud, it doesn't. But that didn't in anyway stop it being delicious.

(Rachel Allen - Bake)
Serves 4-6 (2 if you have no will-power!)
75g short-grain rice
2 tbsp caster sugar
700ml milk
150ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
soft dark brown sugar for sprinkling - optional

1 litre pie dish

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/I used 160ish for my fan oven.

Place the rise and sugar in the pie dish, mixing together and spreading evenly over the base.

In a large saucepan, bring the milk and cream to the boil. Add the vanilla extract and carefully pour over the rice and sugar (the author says she usually does this while the dish is sitting on the rack in the oven).

Bake in the oven for 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 hours or until the rice is soft. Serve.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A present for Dad

This is about a present for my Dad's birthday, so if my dad is reading this (although very unlikely) - STOP NOW!!!

I was a bit stuck for ideas. My Dad enjoys cooking and my sister suggested getting an apron with a photo of the boys on the front. Great idea I thought, so this afternoon I set about trying to get a photo.

I got them both into aprons, Zachary has a matching chef's hat so that was donned too and I got out some mixing bowls and plastic spoons and whisks to set the scene. I explained that they're doing some pretend baking so that I can get a picture for Grandad's birthday. I start to take one or two pictures, quickly realising that both boys have ants in their pants and aren't going to sit still for anyone! Blurry photos coming out.

Then Zachary decides that he needs to know where the pretend eggs are for the pretend baking. Specifically where they are. 'They're pretend, they can be anywhere,' won't cut it! So I tell him the eggs are on the table by the bowl and we continue. Then I decide the boys are too far apart so try to move them closer together. Zachary then won't smile and pulls mardy face

and also at this point, now that he's within range, Leo decides that actually, Zachary's baking bowl and spoon selection is far better than his. Cue stealing of bowl and fighting between them over who gets to use which utensils. Nice.

I still wasn't totally happy with the pictures I had so tried again from another angle, by which time...well you can see!

Gave up, although found this picture in the results

It'll be fine!

Monday, June 06, 2011

Double whammy!

Look at the size of the egg I found in the chickens' nesting box this morning!!! (the photo shows it next to one of a normal size)

And it was a double-yolker. Yummy!

Chocolate Banana Bread

I asked Leigh what sort of cake he would like this week and his only stipulation was that it had to use a loaf tin liner. I came across this in my Great British Baking book. Delicious sample slice eaten today - preparing to eat it with custard tomorrow!!

250g self-raising flour
a good pinch of salt
150g caster sugar
100g unsalted butter, melted and then cooled
2 medium eggs, beaten
250g peeled ripe bananas - I used 2 and a half
75g dark chocolate, chopped
100g walnut pieces

2lb loaf tin

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Now I usually assume in recipe books that unless stated, the oven temperature is for a non-fan oven. I therefore reduced the temperature to about 160C but found I had to cook it for 10 minutes longer than stated before the skewer came out clean. I shall wait to see whether this makes the cake slightly dry tomorrow, but if I bake it again (very likely!), I shall use the stated temperature and see what happens.

Mix the flour with the salt and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the melted, cooled butter and the beaten eggs. Roughly mash the bananas with a fork - there should still be some lumpy bits - and add to the bowl. Add the chocolate and walnut pieces and mix all the ingredients together with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin and spread evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 55 minutes, until the loaf is a good golden brown and a cocktail stick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Leave to cool for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool before slicing. Store in an airtight container.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Baking eggstravaganza!

Prompted by the arrival of some clotted cream through the post (a holiday present from my Dad), and the discovery that we have 16 eggs waiting to be eaten (the hens have been very busy!) it was time for a bit of a bake today.

Started off with some devonshire scones curtesy of Mary Berry - delicious with the clotted cream, and using 2 eggs. We were hoping to have them with some of Leigh's freshly made apple and strawberry jam, but it wasn't quite ready.

Unfortunately, our fridge is far too good and the clotted cream was unspreadable!!!

Then I got the big guns out - Rachel Allen's ham and egg pie. 1 egg in the pastry, 6 in the filling (2 beaten with the cream and ham, 4 resting on top).

Finally, I made Nigella's chicken and bacon pies for dinner - 1 final egg for glazing the pastry top. 10 down, 6 to go and more eggspected tomorrow (hee hee!). More cakes anyone?

The Glorious 4th

Get out your maslin pans and muslin bags - it's jam making time again! Our local PYO (Scaddows Farm) opened its doors today to the strawberry-picking public and we were there nice and early for a good rummage in the plants.

To be fair, Leigh has already made a start on his preserves this year, knocking out a couple of batches of elderflower cordial, some pear and walnut chutney, apple and elderflower jelly, and pear and vanilla butter already! But it was strawberries today. We went to Scaddows last year and got a bumper load of strawberries, and then later in the season they also have raspberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries. So we knew we were onto a good thing. Of course we had our little helpers

although strangely as you can see, Leo's punnet looks rather empty. We soon discovered why

perhaps they should have been weighing children in and out rather than the punnets!

Had a great time and there's now 4 jars of apple and strawberry jam sitting on the side, with another lot of strawberries in the freezer for more jam when more fruits are available, and still more for cooking with and making smoothies. Wonderful.

Friday, June 03, 2011

New places, new adventures

A couple of weeks ago we had a great weekend going out and about. On Saturday we visited Bluebells Dairy in Spondon. I've been wanting to go there for a while as it keeps popping up in local magaziney things, and we had an afternoon to fill...

It wasn't as big as I was expecting, but still very very good. They have their own dairy herd there (obviously...!) and make their own ice cream. So there's a small farm shop and cafe, a great children's play area (slides galore and even a trampoline) and an area where you can feed goats, sheep, rabbits, chickens and other small farm animals. Brilliant.

On the Sunday we travelled out to Staunton Harold. We've been to the Ferrers Centre there before, which is a great craft centre, but this time we also made it to the reservoir (I can't find a specific website for the reservoir, but there are lots of images on Google which link to walking websites and other similar ones).

The reservoir is a beautiful area, there are a few woodland walks nearby, again an ace play area, and some picnic tables. No cafe, but great for a visit.

The Ferrers Centre is a courtyard which is populated with craft studios and shops. It is very lovely and there's a great range on offer, including a chap who specialises in making Victorian-style mechanical models. There was lots I wanted to buy including some great pottery decorated with seaside scenes (here it is on the maker's website)

....managed to exercise a little more restraint this time! There is also a fab toy shop there which is run by volunteers and parents from one of the local schools, to which all the profits go. It has a slightly eclectic range but that is because it's chosen by about 5 of the volunteers, each of them choosing things they like. Including lots of board games - we came home with 2!!! And they served ice cream from the Bluebell Dairy. Fab.